Voice of Real Australia is a regular newsletter from Australian Community Media, which has journalists in every state and territory. Sign up here to get it by email, or here to forward it to a friend. Today's newsletter is written by Australian Community Media group editor, Kathy Sharpe.
In my town of Nowra on the South Coast of NSW, there's been a debate going on - no doubt in an extremely polite, poised and dignified fashion - about whether it's time for a name change for the annual Royal Agricultural Society's Showgirl competition.
Since 1962 when Dungog's Miss Margaret McKay first raised the silver tray at the Sydney Royal Easter Show, competitors around the country have been referred to as Showgirls.
Of course, if you put the word "Showgirl" into Google images, it's more likely to bring up a picture of someone doing the Can Can at the Moulin Rouge than our next generation of rural ambassadors.
Some years ago I was asked to be the presenter for the Kiama Showgirl competition. I was actually shocked at how gruelling the process was for the competitors. The girls had to take part in farm visits, do community work, take public speaking lessons, brush up on their general knowledge, understand agricultural issues, and all this while fundraising for charity. When the Show's on, they have to act as stewards, present ribbons, assist the committee and lead prize winning animals around the track.
Contestants consistently say the experience gives them confidence and leadership skills, and they often make lifelong friends.
So does the name "Showgirls" diminish these achievements?
"I listened to all the other girls and in the end, my opinion changed. I think it's okay for the competition to change as long as what it stands for stays the same," she said.
She said some of the alternatives discussed included Rural Women or Rural Ambassador.
When interviewed on the topic by The Land, Grace Eppelstun from Grenfell who won the crown in 2016, said she would keep the name for sentimental reasons.
"The other day my mum pulled out her Grenfell Showgirl entrant ribbon from the 1980s when she participated, I'm sure there are plenty of other families that can say the same about their mothers and grandmothers," Grace said.
The words of the 2019 The Land Sydney Royal Showgirl, Stephanie Clancy, who is writing regular opinion pieces for the farmers' bible, are proof that these young rural leaders are about much more than pretty dresses and tiaras.
She writes, "I'm definitely not going to preach that I have always loved the farm, because as a child I was the sleepiest, laziest and most carefree kid about. it wasn't until the end of primary school that I found out how important agriculture was to me - especially because we were going through a drought. It was something that as a child you know is happening, but you never fully understand the impact it has on your family until you get older."
I'll admit I'm a sucker for almost any kind of country town tradition. Around NSW alone, Young has the Cherry King and Queen, Ulladulla has the Blessing of the Fleet Princess and Tamworth has the Queen of Country Music. and this is to name but a few. When it's all said and done, I like to see traditions like these survive and grow, even if the language has become a bit outdated. I wonder what you think?
Kathy Sharpe, is a group editor at Australian Community Media
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